At our recent celebration of the occasion of First Holy Communion for our young people, I spoke to them about the love of their parents. When they were born, I told them, it wasn’t enough for their parents to simply look at them, or to be with them. A parent’s love for a child is so overwhelming and so powerful that he or she immediately reaches for the most passionate expression of love they can muster which is a kiss.
We tell our children quite rightly and often that God loves them more than anyone else possibly can, that God’s love is greater than any human love. In his writings on the Eucharist, the Holy Father Benedict XVI likens the love of God for us in the Eucharist to giving us a kiss. If this be the case, then reception of the Eucharist in the hand is like giving the Lord a handshake when what He offered was a kiss. We all know what it means when someone refuses a kiss and responds instead with a handshake and it doesn’t mean a return of the affection offered.
For this and other reasons, I have come to believe that chief among the indults which have abysmally failed to improve Catholic faith and life as promised is this one which touches upon the central act of worship: the permission to replace with Communion in the hand the normal, universal, and noble custom of receiving the Most Holy Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling.
If the liturgy is given so that we might grow in adoration and love of Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist, then the abuses that I and others have seen which have resulted from the handling of the Eucharist by the faithful are responsible for encouraging not only a diminishment of love for the Eucharistic Lord but even scandal and sacrilege as well. How this disaster is supposed to improve upon the worship of the people of God I cannot say.
This indult, a special permission granted at the insistence of bishops in office years ago, is one among the other indults which have rendered many celebrations of the Catholic liturgy both unrecognizable from what came before as handed down in the Church from Christ and the apostles and also unrecognizable from the many church services offered by other ecclesial bodies who deny and attack Catholic teaching. In many cases, the indults have served only to distract from the primary purpose of the Sacrifice of the Mass: to meet, know, and love Jesus Christ.
In what way has reception of Communion in the hand served to deepen reverence or inculcate a more profound belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? For over 40 years we have tried over and over again to explain the proper method for receiving Communion, the bow replacing kneeling and reception in the hand replacing receiving on the tongue.
Repeated instructions have failed to result in any deep or lasting change in behavior as the proposed practice as permitted by the indult has degenerated into a procession no different from that to receive the sacramentals of ashes. The communicants in many cases simply march forward and stand before the priest or other minister and sometimes hold out one hand like they are getting a handout, “ pop” the Body of the Lord into their mouths in a movement very much failing to reflect the sense that they are receiving One who is not ordinary food, and return to their pews. The indult is too difficult for our faithful and so it is simply not done properly.
There will always be those who have faith strong enough to survive any liturgical changes and who will respectfully adapt to any innovation simply because they would cooperate with anything the Church asks of them. This same group would happily have retained the noble custom of reception on the tongue if they had been left happily enough alone.
The answer to this disaster appears to be what many priests are now doing. They introduce all first communicants to the noble custom, use the practice for the celebration of First Holy Communion, and offer to all the people of God at every celebration of Holy Mass those things necessary for kneeling and receiving on the tongue in the kneeler and a server with paten.
We are saved by grace through faith in the One we receive really, truly, and substantially in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. The manner in which we receive Him affects our faith either for good or ill. Offering the option of receiving on the tongue while kneeling encourages those who wish to express the greatest love and reverence for the Lord truly present and invites others to do the same.
+ + + ( Visit Meeting Christ in the Liturgy at mcitl.blogspot.com for teachings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church paired with the Scriptures of Holy Mass for every day of the week. Fr. Cusick blogs at APriestLife.blogspot.com and you can e- mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org). This article was published in The Wanderer Newspaper.